Ultimately pitching is about getting the batter to not get on base. According to the Art of War by Sun Tzu, in battle it is not enough to simply know yourself, you must know your enemy. Here’s some insight into the mentality of Texas Longhorn hitters during an at bat. Notice Brandon Belt is now with the Giants.
It all starts on-deck …
Travis Tucker: We try to see where his release point is — where (the pitcher is) letting go of the ball — and time it to where our feet are down, and you’re in the ready-to-hit position by the time the ball is halfway to the plate.
Kevin Keyes: I take a lot of thinking into the on-deck circle. If it’s a pitcher I’ve faced before, I review what he did to me the at-bat before. I’ll go through that in my head and make sure that if he does that again I’ll know what pitch he throws in a different count. It’s all about mental preparation and getting the timing and rhythm down so you can have a quality at bat.
Brandon Belt: Every pitcher is different. Some get to the plate a lot quicker than others, but pretty much whenever a pitcher starts his windup you want to get your timing on. You prepare all that while on-deck so that you don’t have to worry about getting the timing right later.
And transitions to the batter’s box.
Belt: You try to think as little as possible in the batter’s box because thinking just makes your body slow down. Sometimes, if the count is in your favor you might be kind of guessing what is coming, but that is only about one out of 10 pitches.
Keyes: I like to wait and see what he has. I see his fastball and breaking ball and see what kind of movement he has. See if I can pick something off the pitcher that will tip his pitches. While I’m hitting hopefully it will help me out, but it’s mostly just looking at the pitcher and seeing what he has.
As the ball approaches …
Tucker:You always want to say, “Yes,” like you’re going to hit it. And then at the last minute you say, “No”. You see it and want to try to get recognition. All you’re thinking about is seeing the ball and trusting your hands.
Belt: People put a lot of emphasis on this part, but I think it’s pretty much when you usually don’t need to think at all. All the thoughts exit your mind and you just let your hands react to the ball. We’ve been playing the game for a long time so we have to rely on our eyes and hands to see the ball and hit it.
Keyes: The first thing I see is if the ball is up, I try to hit it hard somewhere. But as it gets closer, it’s more about recognizing where the ball is going to go and end up.
Timing and location are essential.
Tucker: You have to know pretty quickly whether you’re going to swing or not. You find his release point on deck, get relaxed right before he’s set up to throw, and then once he throws, you decide. It’s a sequence.
Belt: There is about four-tenths of a second to decide. If you see the ball right there, you swing, and if you don’t, you let it go. After playing for a long time, you learn how to recognize locations but even then, the tiniest things make the biggest differences. I see a lot of balls I think I can hit out, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Just missing out by one-sixteenth of an inch can turn a would-be homerun into a pop up or ground out.
Each situation is also different, whether it’s batting leadoff …
Tucker: Part of batting leadoff is letting your teammates see the pitches. Usually you want to let the pitcher throw a couple of pitches just to let the rest of the team see what he’s going to do in certain situations. For example, if the count is 3-2, the pitcher might throw a fast ball instead of a curve ball and such.
Or cleanup …
Belt: When you’re batting third or fourth, they definitely throw you a lot more off speed pitches. They give you a wider assortment of pitches, so you have to be ready for anything. But even then, more than ever, you have to relax and just react to the ball. That’s the time when you can’t guess, but you just have to see the ball and react.
Or when there are runners on with two outs and the game is on the line.
Keyes: Most likely if there’s a base open, the pitcher can always throw around you so at any given count so you have to be ready for it. But if the bases are loaded in that situation, the pitcher has to be up most confident throwing a breaking ball in that situation, especially with a full count. In that situation, I’m highly likely to be sitting on a fastball.
But ultimately, the key is confidence.
Belt: You have to trust your hands because if you don’t your confidence will go down.
Keyes: I think it’s just putting more pressure on me if I dwell on a previously unsuccessful at-bat. If I struck out the time before, then the next time I’m up, I try to be more relaxed than I was before and be confident in my instincts.